Washington, D.C. — Congressman G. K. Butterfield has called for a hearing on how to reduce concussions and other head injuries to football players at all levels and ages.
“Unfortunately, the health and safety of millions of children, young people and professional athletes is being put at risk even as they snap on the very helmet they believe will help protect them from injury,” Butterfield said. “We have a standard that’s 30 years old, and it needs to be updated.”
Butterfield, Ranking Member of the Commerce, Trade and Manufacturing Subcommittee and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter requesting a hearing on how football helmets might be improved to reduce concussions and other head injuries.
The letter, sent to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Commerce, Trade and Manufacturing Subcommittee Chair Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) highlights recent media reports on the health and safety risks associated with the football helmets used by millions of children, young people, and professional athletes.
Butterfield said that it is estimated that about 4.4 million children play tackle football each season. He said that figures from the National Children’s Hospital indicate that about 100,000 concussions are reported each season among high school football players, and that many more are believed to go unreported or unrecognized.
“Research shows that children are particularly susceptible to the problems associated with concussions, including problems with memory and depression,” Butterfield said. “While parents and others involved with youth football programs believe helmets keep kids safe from concussions and other head injuries, this is simply not the case.”
Butterfield said that helmets for all players – from the youngest peewee league players to the most seasoned professionals – are tested to the same standard that requires only that they withstand extremely high-level forces that would cause a skull fracture. And, this standard has not been significantly revised since it was first adopted by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) in 1973.
Additionally, Butterfield said, the existing standard does not take into account physical differences between children and adults such as head mass, neck length, and muscular strength.
Butterfield also explained that helmets that are battered season after season may not provide the level of protection required by this standard – even after undergoing an industry “reconditioning” process. Further, he said, some programs and school districts, particularly those in poorer communities that can’t afford the expense of reconditioning, continue to reuse helmets unlikely to meet the standard if they were put through that process.
Data from the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association indicates that last fall 500,000 young players wore helmets that had not undergone basic reconditioning. Currently, some organizations that oversee football programs for children and high school students don’t require that helmets continue to meet the existing standard from season to season. They only require that helmets meet the standard at the time of manufacture.